After 28 years, Isobel Johnston’s agave plant started to bloom this summer and rose to about 22 feet. “I never ever thought it’d get that tall,” she said. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

After 28 years, Isobel Johnston’s agave plant started to bloom this summer and rose to about 22 feet. “I never ever thought it’d get that tall,” she said. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

After 28 years, Sequim agave reaches 22 feet tall

Owner, fire district plan to start anew with seedling

SEQUIM — As one of nine children, Isobel Johnston, now 95, said gardening while she was growing up was a way of life.

Through the years, she’s maintained that mindset by raising a large vegetable garden and caring for a plethora of flowers, from dahlias to roses. Possibly her largest gardening achievement in Sequim has been the massive Agave Americana, known less for growing in the cold, rainy Pacific Northwest and more so in warmer and drier climates.

It’s been a sight for years in front of her home along North Fifth Avenue in Sequim, and this summer it began its months-long bloom with a towering stalk that’s sprouted branches and blooms.

Last Friday, Dec. 8, Clallam County Fire District 3 firefighters used a ladder truck to help measure the plant at about 22 feet tall.

Agave Americana succulents can take decades to bloom, and when they do, a stalk with branches comes up and out over several months and can grow upwards of 30-plus feet.

The bloom means the end of its life cycle, though, and will topple over if not removed.

Johnston said in a 2020 interview she wanted to see it bloom before she died.

“I never ever thought it’d get that tall,” she said last Friday.

Johnston retired to Sequim with her late husband William in 1991 after working as a stock clerk for Grays Harbor Chair and Manufacturing Co., and William for Hoquiam Plywood. He died at the age of 90 on Nov. 28, 2018, about one month away from their 71st wedding anniversary.

The agave is one reminder of their time together as they bought it about 28 years ago for $1 at a Sequim garage sale.

Then the size of a baseball, the plant sat on their porch for a few years in a small pot before a growth spurt caused the couple to move an antique plow from a cement block circle and make room for the agave, where it “just took off,” Johnston said.

Their son, Kenneth Johnston of Tacoma, said there were other plants in the cement circle at one point before it outgrew them, too.

There was also a watering system, but due to the agave growing so large and its sharp leaves, Isobel Johnston said she’s been unable to check to see if it still works.

It’s continued to grow and become a popular attraction for neighbors and passers-by, family members said.

“We are amazed (by the plant),” said Johnston’s daughter, Christine Hallett of Shelton.

“It’s been a lot of fun for people in the community.”

Hallett said she feels her mom has a gift with plants.

“My mother is a self-made Master Gardener,” Hallett said.

“She can cut an apple, take out a seed and make something grow.”

According to agave specialists, the plant prefers rocky or sandy soil and full sun but not frost.

Last winter’s cold weather in Sequim hurt some of the leaves after they had held up for decades, Johnston said.

Asked about her secret to the agave’s success, Johnston said she’s unsure. It could be Sequim’s blue hole sky, and/or the concrete barrier around it providing protection, she said.

One thing she is sure of is she wants to keep at least one of the babies (starts) below it to continue in the same barrier.

Clallam County Fire District 3 owns Johnston’s property, and staff have said they’re committed to helping her remove the plant when ready and keeping a baby there, too.

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at matthew.nash@sequimgazette.com.

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